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November 22, 2014 / 29 Heshvan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘democracy’

Who Will Morsi Heed: Allah or Tom Friedman?

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

Sigh. Forgive me. I really don’t want to write this article but it is too good a case study of the contemporary Western foreign policy reporting, debate, and elite attitudes toward international affairs. And doing a better job is vital because this task involves the fate of millions of people; matters of war and peace; the most basic interests of the United States; and the decency of intellectual discourse.

I refer of course to Thomas L. Friedman’s latest effort, “The Belly Dancing Barometer,” (New York Times, February 19, 2013). Hey, tens of millions of lives are at stake so that’s worth a flippant title and a goofy concept, right?

Friedman writes:

Since the start of the 2011 revolution in Tahrir Square, every time the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood faced a choice of whether to behave in an inclusive way or grab more power, true to its Bolshevik tendencies it grabbed more power and sacrificed inclusion. [President] Morsi’s power grab will haunt him.

The Brotherhood needs to understand that its version of political Islam – which is resistant to women’s empowerment and religious and political pluralism – might be sustainable if you are Iran or Saudi Arabia, and you have huge reserves of oil and gas to buy off all the contradictions between your ideology and economic growth. But if you are Egypt, you need to be as open to the world and modernity as possible to unleash all of the potential for growth. So let me get this straight. Friedman is saying that you cannot trust the Brotherhood, it seeks total power and is antidemocratic. Hmm, What’s he been saying the last two years? He’s been an apologist for the Brotherhood, a cheerleader for the course taken by the “Arab Spring,” and has constantly insisted that the democratic revolution is going well.

Indeed, in January 2012, I wrote an analysis of Friedman’s coverage entitled, “Friedman Cheers as Egyptians are Enslaved.” Now that it’s too late he is supposedly outraged to see what’s going on there.

Now he concludes that the Egyptian regime is not democratic at all but then draws no conclusion about how U.S. policy should change to adjust for his discovery?  Does Friedman now favor, as he hints in the article, using real pressure on Egypt if the regime continues to be repressive at home? Will he criticize Obama for not doing so?

But if Morsi has “Bolshevik tendencies” might that not also lead to his doing something nasty to U.S. interests?

It’s like identifying a mass murderer and then saying, “Do you really think you can get away with this without a vast criminal organization behind you?” rather than yelling, “Help, police! There’s a mass murderer over there!”

And then on top of that he uses the “needs to understand” phrase so beloved of newspaper editorialists but totally absurd in dealing with dictators. Well, what if they don’t understand?  How about saying:

Herr Hitler needs to understand that he cannot conquer the whole world. Germany lacks the economic base to do so.

And do we now believe in economic determinism? Was the USSR sustainable? Can you imagine someone writing this in 1917 to the Bolsheviks?

Mr. Lenin needs to understand that the Soviet Union [yes, I know it wasn't founded until several years later but I'm trying to make a point here] should abandon its Bolshevik tendencies because it will never work out.

Sure the Soviet Union failed but it took almost 75 years and there were tens of millions dead as a result.

And since when did a Middle Eastern radical dictatorship (even one that was elected) put economic pragmatism ahead of seeking its goals: the PLO or Palestinian Authority, Saddam Hussein? Gamal Abdel Nasser? I  don’t remember the Iranian government dropping the nuclear weapons program because of economic sanctions.

Arguably, one such leader did bow to economic necessity to moderate. His name was Anwar al-Sadat and now his regime–under Sadat’s successor, Mubarak–is the villain for America and the West.

Note that Friedman never says: President Obama needs to understand that he cannot trust this Muslim Brotherhood regime, should see it as a threat to U.S. interests, and must work to undermine it.

Moreover, is Friedman correct and Morsi wrong? Is the world really going to cut off the money to Egypt if it keeps getting more Islamist? Will the U.S. insist that the IMF stop aiding the Egyptian regime or even stop sending it free weapons?

Obama’s Careful Phrasing Conceals Disasters

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

While President Obama’s State of the Union message was overwhelmingly domestically oriented, the foreign policy sections were most interesting.

The president began in the same neo-patriotic mode used in the second inaugural address, with a special emphasis on thanking U.S. troops. He used the imagery of the end of World War II paralleling the return of troops from Iraq to promote his idea that the American economy must be totally restructured.

Obama defined his main successes—careful to credit the military (whose budget he seeks to cut deeply and whose health benefits he’s already reduced) rather than his usual emphasis on taking the credit for himself—were the following points:

For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq.
For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.
Most of Al Qaida’s top lieutenants have been defeated. The Taliban’s momentum has been broken. And some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.Now there certainly have been accomplishments on these three fronts but these claims are also profoundly misleading and very carefully worded. Let’s take them one at a time.

Iraq Withdrawal. It is true that U.S. forces are largely out of Iraq yet this was inevitable, with one key reservation. There was no likelihood they would be there in a large combat role forever. Whatever one thinks of the invasion of Iraq, the American forces were staying for an interim period until the Iraqi army was ready. Any successor to George W. Bush would have pulled out the combat forces.

The reservation, of course, is that it was the success of the surge—which Obama and his new secretary of defense (yes, he will be confirmed) Chuck Hagel opposed. So he is taking credit for a policy that was inevitable and that was made possible by a success that he was against.

Lest you think that assessment is unfair to Obama consider this: he did absolutely nothing to make this outcome happen. No policy or strategy of his administration made the withdrawal faster or more certain.

Osama Bin Laden. This is a strange phrase: “For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.” It is a new way of putting the “Obama killed Osama” meme while hinting that al-Qaida is not a threat to the United States. Well, as Benghazi shows, al-Qaida is still a threat but wording the sentence the way Obama did implies otherwise without saying so and looking foolish at making an obviously false claim.

Al Qaeda. Notice a very strange and ungrammatical formulation: “Most of Al Qaida’s top lieutenants have been defeated.” I think this can only be understood as an incomplete change in the traditional slogan that al-Qaida has been defeated. The administration can no longer make this argument so it is looking for something that gets in bin Ladin’s assassination and that of other al-Qaida leaders (al-Qaida has been decapitated) with hinting that al-Qaida has been defeated.

In other words, someone did a bad job of proofreading the speech. Of course, all of this glosses over the fact that al-Qaida hasn’t been defeated. It is on the march in Mali, the Gaza Strip, Somalia, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Yemen, and other places.

Incidentally, al-Qaida will always be defeated politically because it has no strong political program or structure. That’s why al-Qaida kills but the Muslim Brotherhood wins. And Obama is helping the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Taliban. As for the Taliban, again there is a cute formulation: its “momentum has been broken.” In other words, the Taliban has survived, it is still launching attacks, and it might even take over large parts of Afghanistan after American troops leave. Momentum has been broken is just a fancy way of saying that its gaining power has been slowed down. Of course, after American troops leave, that momentum will probably speed up again.

In his second mention of foreign affairs, Obama spoke of economic issues, he says:

My message is simple. It is time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America. Send me these tax reforms, and I will sign them right away.In fact, though, businesses are not fleeing the United States because the wages are lower there while the Obama Administration puts into effect increasingly tight and costly regulations and imposes higher costs (including the impact of Obamacare). Moreover, wages are lower overseas.

Will the Likud Remain Democratic?

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

One piece of political news that probably went unnoticed to most, especially among all the coalition-negotiation rumors, was that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering cancelling the Likud’s primaries.

An article about this was first published on Jan. 28th,  just after the Knesset election on Israel’s Walla news site. Then, over the last few days it sprung up again in Ma’ariv/NRG and Yediot. Another Feb. 10 article in Ma’ariv claims that the Prime Minister intends to have the primaries cancelled before ministers are sworn into the government – that is, potentially in a matter of weeks.

To most people this is just internal party politics, but it’s really not. It directly affects the democratic nature of the State of Israel. In Israel, voters do not choose individual candidates, they choose slates. In effect, there are 120 legislators, but not a single representative. The candidates themselves are chosen via internal party processes – sometimes by a committee – a larger “central committee” or a smaller secretariat or selection committee – sometimes by the chairman, sometimes by the membership in an open primary. Those primaries are the only opportunity a citizen has to vote for an actual legislator, the only time a legislator directly faces a citizen and is held accountable for his record.

Unfortunately, only a few parties hold primaries. Likud and Labor do. This past election cycle, the Jewish Home held primaries, but only half of its list was chosen in the primaries, the rest by the central committee of T’kuma/the National Union. Kadima held primaries for its chairman, but cancelled its primaries for its list because it was expected to only get a maximum of 3 seats (in the end it got two). In total, about 42-3 Members of Knesset were chosen in primaries, meaning about  1/3rd of Knesset Members were chosen by actual people and not by party bosses. Even more unfortunate, is the fact that only a small percentage, something like three percent, of the public is eligible to vote in a party primary, and even less actually do vote.

But still it’s a start. If Israel won’t change over to a district-based electoral system (one representative per district), the only hope for the Members of Knesset being chosen by the people is through the primaries.

The alleged reason for cancelling primaries is, reportedly, that there are those who believe that the Likud’s list was too right-wing and that cost it votes and at the same time, not all party members voted for the party. Or in other words, the “settlers” registered to the party to push candidates like Tzipi Hotovely, Danny Danon, Ze’ev Elkin, Yariv Levin and Moshe Feiglin. The problem with that allegation is that there are many factions within the party who behave this way (like unions and members registered by vote contractors); there probably was a higher voting rate among settlers who were registered for the Likud then those who weren’t;  and of the 11 seats the Likud-Beytenu list lost from its prior standing the Knesset, seven mandates worth of votes went to the right. Any internal party player, especially the Prime Minister knows all this.

It is true though that the primaries are intensely manipulated – by the various factions/MKs/branch chairmen/vote contractors (vote contracting, as I have explained elsewhere refers to the practice of registering people to the party and then kind of bargaining with their votes for personal gain). This is a huge problem. But this manipulation can only take place because so few people are registered to the party. Many of them are registered by internal players, who can trade on their votes.

If, on the other hand, a million or 500,000 people  instead of 120,000 were registered to the Likud, and those people were registered by the party itself and not for any specific internal party player, it would be too hard for any vote contractor or even group, such as a union, to register and control the numbers necessary to manipulate the system. Vote contracting in its current powerful form, would be a thing of the past.

That would require an immense registration effort by the party over several years. That is very possible. In Israel, however, long term solutions, are not the preferred solutions. It’s easier and more seductive to maneuver one’s way to power, which in this case may mean canceling the primaries and concentrate power in the hands of an even smaller group of people.

Morsi’s Goon Squads Kill 2 Activists; US ‘Disturbed’

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

The U.S. State Department has told Egypt it is “extremely disturbed” by the video of Egyptian police brutally beating and dragging a naked activist near the presidential palace as the Muslim Brotherhood makes the Obama administration’s enthusiastic welcome of the regime more problematic.

While the State Dept, omitted any terms such as “outrage” or “barbaric” in order not to offend Cairo, Egyptian media reported there have been at least two death-by-torture incidents. Many others are “missing.”

The State. Dept. was “extremely disturbed” only after a video was shown of the beating of the naked activist, Hamda Saber, but there has been no lack of evidence of previous brutality, similar if not worse than that imposed by Mubarak’s police force.

More than 60 people were killed in clashes against the Morsi regime the past several weeks.

The “new” Egypt now has to explain the death of Popular Current party activist Mohammed El-Gendy, 28, who was at Cairo’s Tahrir Square eight days ago. He died Monday following multiple fractures and brain damage, and Morsi has gone through the motions of ordering an investigation.

Also on Monday, 20-year-old Amr Saade died after clashes with the police outside the presidential palace.

“While many have been shocked by El-Gendy’s death, he is not the first to die of torture during Morsi’s rule,” human rights activist Hossam Bahgat said via Twitter. “You only know his name because he’s a political activist.”

The April 6 Youth Movement said on Sunday asserting that one of its members, Hossam El-Din Abdel-Hamid, was missing after having been detained by police.

“Abdel-Hamid was brutally beaten and is suffering from a severe injury and has not been referred to the prosecution until this minute,” April 6 stated. ”

“Most of those arrested [estimated at more than 600 since 25 January] are now being detained in… camps that are not made or equipped for detention,” Malek Adly, a rights lawyer told Ahram Online. “Unlike prisons or police stations, these camps aren’t equipped to provide prisoners with meals, so detainees are often left without food or water for long periods.”

With Egypt facing bankruptcy and political chaos, two years after the Arab Spring revolution that deposed Hosni Mubarak, Morsi faces increased opposition as Egyptian media leak details of police brutality against those who oppose him. The United States applauded the results of last year’s election because it was “democratic.”

The first American venture into making democracy safe for the Middle East was then-Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice’s excitement over the first – and last – democratic elections in the Palestinian Authority eight years ago. Hamas won.

The Western Left Abandons the Arab Left

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Originally published by Rubin Reports.

OH! pleasant exercise of hope and joy! For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood Upon our side, we who were strong in love! Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!–Oh! times, In which the meager, stale, forbidding ways Of custom, law, and statute, took at once The attraction of a country in romance! –William Wordsworth, Poem on the French Revolution, 1789 A decent but very leftist British Middle East expert once described for me his experience in Iran in 1979. As a leftist, he had discounted any idea that Islamists might take over the country before the revolution, dismissing them as insignificant. But then he supported the revolution against the “reactionary, pro-Western” shah.

He had many friends among Iranian leftists. Quickly, he went to Tehran and scheduled meetings at the leftist newspaper established after the revolution. The newspaper was named with the Persian word for dawn, recalling—intentionally or not I have no idea—the words of another revolutionary romantic quoted above.

As he arrived, however, a cordon of revolutionary Islamist police held him back. The supporters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini were busy closing down the newspaper, ransacking the office, and dragging the journalists away to prison. The enthusiastic supporters of revolution, betrayed by their allies (Wordsworth’s “auxiliars,”) were discovering that it wasn’t their revolution at all. The “meager, stale, forbidding” laws and customs were coming back with a vengeance.

The left may believe itself to be “strong in love” but the Islamists have got the guns, money, organization, and the willingness (even eagerness) to kill for power.

This was not the first time in history such things happened. And now with the “Arab Spring” it won’t be the last either.

The leftist forces in the Arabic-speaking world as relatively weak but they can be disproportionately significant, especially in Egypt, Syria, and Tunisia. While Arab liberals have often been implicitly secular-oriented, it has been the leftists, Marxists to some degree, who have been militantly outspoken.

In recent years, though, the Arab left has also hitched its star to the far more powerful Islamists, reasoning that they, too, were against the regime and the West. “After Hitler, us,” over-optimistic German Communists proclaimed in 1932. In a sense, they were right since after the Third Reich’s fall the Soviets would make the survivors the puppet rulers of East Germany. But that’s not the scenario they had in mind.

Now Arab leftists are repeating that pattern. In Egypt, the left provided a youthful, pseudo-democratic cover at the revolution’s beginning that fooled the Western governments, journalists, and “experts.” Now the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t need them anymore.

Here’s a small example of that. The Egyptian leftist newspaper is al-Tahrir and its editor is Ibrahim Issa. He is now being investigated by the government prosecutor on charges of ridiculing the Quran and Sharia law as well as mocking Islam. Soon, people are going to be shot by Salafist terrorists on the basis of such accusations. For now, they just face trials and possible jail time.

What is worth noting is that just about anyone—in this case, as usual, it was an Islamist lawyer—can urge that charges be made against people who say something that offends the Islamists.

I was fascinated by one of the statements that got Issa in trouble. It was a very typical leftist theme whose equivalent is used about every five minutes in the United States and every day in these times by Obama Administration officials. Issa sarcastically remarked that if someone steals a wallet Sharia mandates that their hand be cut off but for stealing millions the punishment is far less harsh.

Issa certainly has guts. He was once sentenced to death under the Mubarak regime, and then pardoned by that dictator. But now there has been a supposed democratic revolution.

If the opposition cannot make such non-theological points how can it criticize Sharia and Islamist rule at all? And while Issa may be defiant, most will be deterred from speaking out or acting by fear of punishment. A common mistake is to think that repression is aimed at silencing courageous critics. Not really. It is intended—and usually works—in getting a far larger number of bystanders to shut up.

Tell the NYT: Israelis Have Lost Interest in the ‘Peace Process’

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

For the past couple of years, the line pushed hard by the American Jewish anti-Zionist Left — the ones that love Israel so much they want to destroy it in order to save it, Peter BeinartJ StreetThomas L. FriedmanRabbi Rick Jacobs of the Reform Movement, the New Israel Fund, etc. — has been that American Jews have become distanced from Israel because it has moved sharply to the right, abandoning democracy and liberal values, becoming a racist theocracy.

For example, here’s Friedman in December:

Israel’s friends need to understand that the center-left in Israel is dying. The Israeli election in January will bring to power Israeli rightists who never spoke at your local Israel Bonds dinner. These are people who want to annex the West Bank. Bibi Netanyahu is a dove in this crowd. The only thing standing between Israel and national suicide any more is America and its willingness to tell Israel the truth. [emphasis in original]

And here is Daniel Sokatch of the New Israel fund just a week ago:

If the polls are correct, on January 22, Israelis will elect the most right-wing government in Israeli history. It is likely to be even more hardline than the current coalition, on whose watch Israel’s relations with the Obama administration soured over disagreements over Iran, Israel’s expanding settlement enterprise, and the moribund peace process.

Oops.

How many times do I have to say it? These idiots do not have a clue about what Israelis think, what their priorities are, and of course how they vote.

This election was anything but a victory for the right wing. The Likud, perhaps in part because of the replacement of some relatively moderate members of its list with those farther to the right, ended up with far fewer seats than predicted. Although the new Bayit Hayehudi party — among those, in Friedman’s words, “who want to annex [parts of] the West Bank” — did remarkably well, it too did less well than expected.

The big surprise was the second-place finish of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. Centrist, concerned with social issues — including Haredi draft-avoidance — and the cost of apartments and food. So much for theocracy.

Interestingly — at least, it should be interesting to Sokatch, Friedman, Beinart, et al — there was little discussion during the campaign of “the peace process,” “the occupation” and the “two-state solution” with which they are obsessed. Everybody in Israel, with the exception of the European- and NIF-funded Left, knows that the “peace process” is dead because there is simply no common ground between the Israeli need for security and the Arab desire to destroy Israel.

No, the issues uppermost in their minds are Iran — and here, most Israelis have confidence in Netanyahu — and questions of social and economic policy.

In other words, after survival, Israelis are concerned with how best to improve the functioning of their democracy, how to share the burdens and distribute the benefits of their free society — exactly the areas in which the patronizing liberal American Jews think that they know better than the ‘primitive’ Israelis!

Now that they have been proven wrong, will they shut up? Of course not. But they should. As a person who has lived in Israel and the U.S., who today is close to children and grandchildren living in Israel and therefore can compare the two systems, I can say that I am far more worried about the future of democracy in the USA than in Israel.

Yes, Israel lives in constant threat of war, but most of its people have better access to good health care than Americans do. Yes, the cost of apartments is astronomical, but I am confident that this will shortly change, while the goal of home ownership is moving farther away for many Americans. And our political process…

Islamists in Jordan Oppose Upcoming Elections and Democracy Altogether

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

Why are radical Muslims opposed to the upcoming parliamentary election in Jordan?

Because they believe that democracy is in contradiction with Islam’s concept of the sovereignty of Allah’s law. They argue that Islam and democracy cannot go together, and they are obviously right, especially if one considers the experiences of people living under Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Thanks to the “Arab Spring,” which has seen the rise of Islamists to power in a number of countries, Muslim extremists today feel free to express their opinion on political and religious issues.

One of them, Abed Shehadeh, leader of the Salafi Jihadi movement in Jordan, ruled this week that democracy in its concept as “ruling of the people by the people” and “should be forbidden in Islam.”

Shehadeh, who is also known as Abu Mohammad Tahawi, explained that sovereignty and government belong to Allah alone and not to the people.

He said that the upcoming parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for January 23, were forbidden and contradictory to Islamic Shariah “because the parliament legislates laws and regulations that contradict Allah’s law.”

Shehadeh also criticized electoral programs presented by the candidates and lists. He said that the “the electoral slogans used by the candidates were “impossible to implement on the ground.”

He urged Jordanians to boycott the elections because “choosing legislators other than Allah is forbidden.”

The Salafi Jihadi leader’s call for boycotting the election does not seem to have fallen on deaf ears in Jordan, where many voters seem determined to boycott the vote.

Although it is banned in Jordan, the Salafi Jihadi movement has managed to recruit several thousand supporters over the past few years.

In April 2011, the movement held one of its largest demonstrations in the industrial town of Zarqa north of Amman. Eighty-three policemen were wounded, including four who were stabbed by Salafis.

It now remains to be seen whether the Salafi Jihadists will resort to violence to prevent or foil the parliamentary election.

Jordanian security officials have expressed deep concern over the radical movement’s involvement in the civil war in Syria. Dozens of Jordanian Salafis have crossed the border to join various Islamist terror groups waging Jihad [holy war] against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s regime.

The Jordanians’ biggest fear is that when the Salafis are done with Syria, they will intensify their efforts to turn the kingdom into an Islamic state.

The Jordanian Salafis who are fighting in Syria are not seeking to install democracy. Nor are they seeking to enable Syrians to hold free and democratic elections to choose their representatives. As their leader, Shehadeh, explained, democracy and elections are forbidden in Islam.

The Salafis, like other radical Islamist groups, want to establish an Islamic empire and impose strict Shariah laws on Arabs and Muslims. They are convinced that sovereignty and “government should be only in the hands of Allah,” who has entrusted them with serving as his representatives and messengers on earth.

Originally published at the Gatestone Institute.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/khaled-abu-toameh/islamists-in-jordan-oppose-upcoming-elections-and-democracy-altogether/2013/01/12/

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